Millipedes are a group of arthropods that are characterised by having two pairs of jointed legs on most body segments. Each double-legged segment is a result of two single segments fused together. There are approximately 12,000 named species classified into 16 orders and around 140 families, making Diplopoda the largest class of myriapods, an arthropod group which also includes centipedes and other multi-legged creatures.
Millipedes are generally harmless to humans, although some can become household or garden pests, especially in greenhouses where they can cause severe damage to emergent seedlings. They occur on all continents except Antarctica, and occupy almost all terrestrial habitats and feed on decomposing vegetation, faeces, or organic matter mixed with soil. They often play important roles in the breakdown and decomposition of plant litter. Some millipedes are herbivorous, feeding on living plants, and some species can become serious pests of crops. Some feed on algae from barks, and some feed on fungi. A few species are omnivorous or occasionally carnivorous, feeding on insects, centipedes, earthworms, or snails, and they become themselves meal for various reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, and insects.
As pests, some millipedes can infest thatched roofs in India, or periodically invade homes in Australia. Other species exhibit periodical swarming behaviour, which can also result in home invasions, crop damage, and train delays when the tracks become slippery with the crushed remains of hundreds of millipedes. For example, Blaniulus guttulatus can cause significant damage to crops: the spotted snake millipede is a noted pest of sugar beets and other root crops, and as a result is one of the few millipedes with a common name, as it is regularly met by farmers.
To be able to avoid a millipede infestation, you need to take into consideration several methods that will help you prevent such an occurrence. Be aware of the fact that millipedes prefer humid and chilly environments, so make sure you control this aspect inside and around your house as much as possible. People find millipedes under mulch, piles of dead leaves, or under piles of grass clipping. They also live under structures like dog houses and storage sheds, and thrive in places where the soil stays damp. They eat dead leaves and decaying wood particles that they find around the yard.
In the fall, they are known to often migrate. They move out of their normal habitat and it is believed they do this in order to get ready for winter. However, millipedes have also been seen migrating after a heavy rain has flooded their habitat. During these migrations, millipedes often find their way into homes. They gather on porches and patios, climb the foundation of the home and they often find entryways such as basement doors and windows, crawlspace vents, and garage doors. They can be found in any place of the house, however, they prefer do rooms with a high level of humidity.
Prevent the risk of millipedes dwelling in your yard and entering your house
- sealing all doors, windows, cracks, gaps, and crevices, and ensuring that crawl space vents are properly screened and that the doors in question close tightly;
- ensuring that all basement windows have screens;
- checking weather stripping on all exterior doors and replacing it if needed;
- securing and waterproofing the foundation of your home if the landscape makes it particularly prone to humidity or floods;
- using air conditioning or a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air;
- reducing moist spaces that may favor millipede populations close to your home, such as removing excess mulch from flowerbeds and ensuring that there are no piles of dead leaves in gutters or anywhere close to the house;
- ensuring that the rain gutters direct water (and other precipitation) as far away from your house as possible and using extended gutters if needed;
- pruning all shrubbery in spring so that air can circulate between plants and thus create drier environments;
- mowing your lawn as often as possible in order to keep the grass short and healthy, thus not allowing it to become a suitable, moist environment and good hiding place for millipedes;
- because millipedes are only active at night, watering your lawn and flowers during the mornings rather than evenings;
- capping off sprinkler heads near the foundation of your home;
- avoid utilizing compost, or at least, lower its quantity, as it can retain humidity for a long time;
- move piles of wood or logs as far away from the house as possible and clean your yard of
- leaves, or other decomposing plants;
Natural solutions for preventing millipedes
Should you encounter just a millipede or two inside your home, you can easily pick it up by putting a piece of paper in front of it. It will crawl on the paper and you can take the insect outside. You can also use a broom, a dustpan or a vacuum.
Wood ash is a great deterrent for millipedes as they will lay eggs and inhabit damp environments. Wood ash will help dry out the soil directly around your house sending millipedes searching for more habitable environments. Concentrate wood ash around the foundation of your home and rake it into the soil for added effectiveness.
If you have the space, energy, time, and resources, consider raising chickens on your property. Chickens are a rather unconventional method of getting rid of millipedes, but they are a natural predator and can keep your millipede population under control for the duration of their lives. And as chickens have a large appetite, a few chickens can take care of most moderate infestations.
Should the prevention methods above cannot help you handle the number of millipedes that roam through your yard, and you are facing a serious infection, consider checking the article on how to get rid of millipedes, where we present some chemical and non-chemical methods of eradicating an infestation.